Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Happy Mondays, "Bummed" (2007 collector's edition)

If this does turn out to be "The Last CD", I figured I should write something about it.  And oddly enough, it's the only Happy Mondays album (pre-reunion) that I've never heard (in particular, "Happy Mondays Live" is the one I used to play endlessly).

I can scarcely imagine what a first time listener would think of Happy Mondays nearly thirty years on.  The earlier generation had their prized west coast psych bands to lionize, bands that burned brightly and burned out.  If you couldn't understand the reasons for all the mania by listening to the records (which now sound tame) well then you had to be there.  My generation has bands like Happy Mondays, who were also more like a scene than a band.  Their main foils The Stone Roses' music was rooted in classic rock staples (Byrds, Zeppelin) and can be enjoyed without reference to Madchester catchphrases or gossip tidbits from issues of NME from 1989.  For anyone under the age of 35, watching or re-watching the second half of "24 Hour Party People" will acclimate you to the Monday's appeal faster than listening to any of their albums will.

"Bummed" turns out to be a major disappointment.  John Cale was the perfect producer for the pre-Madchester version of the Mondays.  On their debut, he knew how to polish their minimal grind-funk into a listenable product despite (and even highlighting) the rough edges.  A wasted Martin Hannett adding echo and reverb at 4 AM before rushing out to join the party in the next room (most likely) doesn't pass the grade.  Most of "Bummed" sounds like an extension of their debut, it's clear they were running out of ideas and were carrying on because they could, and getting away with everything because their label actively encouraged their notoriety.  Early Joy Division could come off as amateurish and full of errors as well, but they were driven, stayed driven, and improved immensely.  Early Mondays was sloppy rock with a purpose, but on "Bummed", the main purpose was to stick to the formula and apply just enough effort to keep the party going as long as possible. 

However, the bonus tracks and remixes on the reissue still sound groovy and inspired. Listening to both discs together really accentuates to which degree these remixes transformed everything Mondays were about (at least on record), turning them from just another forgotten late 80's UK indie band into a fresh, dance-rock monster for the 90's.  Remixes of "Hallelujah" and "Wrote For Luck" became the standard radio-friendly versions, and were more well known than the originals.  This studio dressup game worked for a short while.  Unlike Primal Scream, who also never requested their image makeover but were able to run with it in the long term once it happened, once the Mondays had to actually become that dance-rock band (rather than a ramshackle rock band getting the all-star remix treatment), they fell apart rather quickly.  Paul Oakenfold turned the follow-up, "Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches" into a near classic, but in retrospect it was undoubtedly their "New Jersey".     

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